ROCK ISLAND, Illinois -- In just his second kart race of the year, Californian Scott Speed held off a strong and talented field to win Superkarts! USA's "King of the Streets" at the Rock Island Grand Prix. He was one of five first-time...
ROCK ISLAND, Illinois -- In just his second kart race of the year, Californian Scott Speed held off a strong and talented field to win Superkarts! USA's "King of the Streets" at the Rock Island Grand Prix. He was one of five first-time participants to win this year at The Rock.
A record field of 254 drivers comprised 390 entries in 16 classes for the largest and most successful event in the eight-year history of the professional kart races.
Nelson Phillippe, a French native now living in Florida, captured his first win as a shifter driver and a major victory for Team Fittipaldi in the 125cc Semi-Pro shifter event, sponsored by Bi-State Home Improvement, after a back and forth battle with top-ranked Nick Bussell. Mauricio Borrero of Columbia, also living in Florida to drive for Fittipaldi, finished third.
The win made Phillippe just the second foreign-born driver to win at Rock Island. "Tell the people for me I am sorry an American could not win this race, but I had to come and experience this race first hand,'' said Phillippe. "The Rock Island Grand Prix is a prestigious race. I'm honored to win this. It means you're the best."
The largest field of the weekend was the 2-cycle Super Sportsman class, sponsored by Zimmerman Pontiac, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Honda, with 48 entries. It was won by Todd Bolton of Bowen, Ill. A solid field of 28 Intercontinental C drivers also took the grid. Kyle Wiegand of Indiana won the first-ever running at Rock Island of both the ICC, sponsored by WHBF-TV4, and the 250cc Biland, sponsored by Barfly Barstools. Besides Wiegand, Bolton and Jacob Otto of Marshalltown, Iowa, each won two races.
Presenting Sponsors of the Rock Island Grand Prix are SBC/Ameritech and Bi-State Home Improvement Corp. The $25,000 purse is sponsored by Jumer's Casino Rock Island and Kart Expo International is also a major sponsor. The race is hosted by the Downtown Rock Island Arts & Entertainment District.
For Speed, who has been racing on the Formula Mazda and Barber Dodge circuits, the weekend got off to a slow start when he blew a motor in Saturday practice. Californian Ron White posted back-to-back track record lap times (32.665) during Sunday's feature, sponsored by Bondurant Super Kart School, but still couldn't close the gap on Speed, and finished second.
Jason Musser of Texas won the highly-touted Rotax Max Street Challenge in a wild shootout with Alabama's Mack McCormack. Defending champ and polesitter Tim Lobaugh was third.
"I remember before I even started racing, I'd heard and read about this event. I won two nationals in June and that doesn't even come close to matching this,'' said Musser. "It's just incredible to win here. Here they have spectators and it was an amazing feeling to have them all clapping for me on the victory lap.''
Large crowds have become the norm in Rock Island. Spectator Alvin Torton explained why. "You can't get this kind of action anywhere else. I swear I felt the sweat coming off the last guy who went by.''
McCormack was equally impressed. "I've been in six national championships and two world championships and this race is at the top of any of those,'' said the 20-year karting veteran. "I've been in several street races and this is definately at the top of the scale."
"If y'all want to race against the best, you come here,'' McCormack said in his Southern drawl.
Without a doubt, the closest race of the day was the 4-cycle Stock Medium race, sponsored by SBC/Ameritech, where Indiana's Chris Harding defended his title by defeating Jason Birdsell by just .051 of a second. The two were so close they could exchange "high-fives" just afer passing the finish line.
"It was wild. I thought maybe I could make it,'' said Birdsell, the winningest driver in Rock Island Grand Prix history, who was shut out for the first time since 1995.
Probably the luckiest driver of the weekend was Eric Garland who won the 4-cycle Stock Heavy class. Garland was the kart to beat, but crashed into the straw bales while leading on the last lap. However just after his collision, another accident caused a red flag. The red flag brought a premature finish based on the standings of the last completed lap, giving the win back to Garland.
"I'm going to have to find that guy and buy him a beer,'' Garland said of Missouri's Matt Riggs, who walked away unharmed from a spectacular crash.
The new 125cc Masters class, for shifter drivers over age 35, was won by Texan John Kindhart. The race at Rock Island was the last in an East Meets West challenge series run by Superkarts! USA on its national ProMoto Tour. The points winner receives the Rock Island Cup.
Canadian John Spindler came into the race in third place in the standings. But with the top two competitors not racing at Rock Island, all Spindler had to do was finish ahead of his nearest competitors which he did, finishing sixth.
Kindhart, who said he had something to prove, said `I got The Rock (trophy for winning at Rock Island) instead of The Cup. I wanted to show I could have won the title if I'd have had a chance.''
The five-time national champion Speed, wearing his king's crown and cape, offered up nothing but compliments for the event.
"How the town comes together to put this on is really amazing,'' said Speed. "I've always wanted to take my kart out on the streets. This was awesome, an awesome experience.''
Indy Racing League driver Mark Dismore Sr. also gave the race a thumbs up. He was in town to help son Mark Jr. in the pits and help out with the family business, Comet Kart Shop.
"I wish I were out there this weekend. I can't go to any race without feeling that. But that's not what this weekend is about," said Dismore Sr., an IRL record-holder with 16 straight top-10 finishes. "It's a great event. It's one of the nicest and biggest street races I've ever been to."
Birdsell agreed, adding that the race lineups just keep getting better. "All the top guys are coming now,'' he said.
Jeff Brown from Michigan, a legend of the sport, competed at Rock Island for the first time.
"I've been karting for 40 years and was impressed by the entire event. Very well organized. We were treated with respect by all the authorities. They were glad to have us. The track was very safe and challenging. We needed more practice, but that's impossible. My hat's off to all who put the show on, and the participants for showing karters have class," Brown said after the races.